Category Archives: citizenship taxation

Should tax residency Be Based On The “Circumstances Of Your Birth” Or The “Circumstances Of Your Life”?

Panel session – US Expat Tax Conference from Deborah Hicks on Vimeo.

Should taxation be based on the “circumstances of your birth” or the “circumstances of your life”? President Obama doesn’t think (apparently) that the “circumstances of your birth” birth should determine the “outcome of your life”. Should the “circumstances of your birth” determine your tax residency?

This is a second post exploring what is the true meaning of U.S. citizenship-based taxation. In an earlier post – “Toward A Definition Of Citizenship Taxation” – I explored the contextual meaning and effect of U.S. “citizenship taxation”. The only “contextual effect” and “practical meaning” of U.S. citizenship taxation may be described as:

Therefore, the practical meaning of “citizenship taxation” is the United States imposing taxation on the non-US source income earned by people who live in other countries. To be clear: citizenship taxation means that the United States is claiming the residents of OTHER countries as US residents for tax purposes!

That’s amazing stuff! Most countries believe that they are sovereign and that includes sovereignty over matters of taxation. Yet, any country that is a party to a U.S. tax treaty has actually agreed that a subset of the treaty partner’s tax residents are ALSO U.S. tax residents! Although nobody questions the right of the United States to prescribe its own definition of tax residency, few would agree that the United States has the right to claim the residents of other countries as U.S. tax residents. Yet, this is what the U.S. citizenship taxation regime means. This U.S. extraterritorial claim of taxation is at the root of the FATCA administration problems and at the root of the the events that led to Treasury Notice 2023-11 (released on December 30, 20220).

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Toward A Definition Of US Citizenship Taxation

Prologue

The term “citizenship tax” is abstract and meaningless without context. What does it really mean? In this short post I attempt to describe the defining aspect of US tax residency in simple terms.

Bottom line:

The ONLY contextual meaning of taxing based on citizenship is that it allows the US to impose tax on income earned outside the United States by people who live outside the United States.

Here is why …

What exactly is “citizenship taxation”? How/why does citizenship matter? It’s not what the “treaty partner” countries think!

1. Like all countries the United States imposes worldwide taxation on its residents. Individuals living in the United States will meet the “substantial presence” requirements and are therefore taxable on their worldwide income. Citizenship is irrelevant.

2. Like all countries the United States imposes taxation on income sourced in the United States. Generally the United States will have the first right of taxation and has the ability to withhold tax. Citizenship is irrelevant.

3. Like no other country (OK, sort of Eritrea) the United States imposes taxation on the non-US source income of people who do not live in the United States and do live in other countries. The US usually claims this right because those people were “Born In The USA” (making them US citizens). Therefore, the US imposes worldwide taxation on people who live in other countries. Citizenship is relevant because it is why the US claims the right to tax people who don’t live in the US and are residents of other countries.

4. Therefore, the practical meaning of “citizenship taxation” is the United States imposing taxation on the non-US source income earned by people who live in other countries. To be clear: citizenship taxation means that the United States is claiming the residents of OTHER countries as US residents for tax purposes!

5. This means that: Every country in the world who signs a tax treaty with the United States that includes a “saving clause” is agreeing that the United States has the right to tax income earned in the treaty partner country by residents of the treaty partner country. It is obvious that countries signing these treaties have no idea what they are signing. The problem has been further illuminated by the recent US Croatia tax treaty that allows the United States to imposes taxation on Croation residents who ARE and WERE US citizens.

So, US citizenship taxation means that the US can tax the non-US source income of residents of other countries!

John Richardson – Follow me on Twitter @Expatriationlaw

The Weaponization Of Citizenship: From “You Are NOT American” to “You ARE American”

Recommended Reading For Americans Abroad

I recently came across the book “You Are NOT American” by Professor Amanda Frost. I read very few books from beginning to end. This particular book I read twice. The subtitle of the book is “Citizenship Stripping From Dred Scott To The Dreamers“. Ms. Frost documents the struggles of those unlikely people who were conscripted into the an internal struggle – invisible to all except those affected – in the United States. I think of this struggle as the “weaponization of citizenship”. Historically this struggle has resulted from the attempts of the United States to reconcile its ugly history of slavery with its beautiful aspirations of freedom. The book is well researched and Ms. Frost was able to tell the stories of the principal “warriors”, bringing them to life in a way that humanized them. Although each person/warrior was the public face of a legal issue (many of their cases were heard by the Supreme Court Of The United States) we learn and understand the facts and circumstances that brought them to the court. While reading the book, I could feel the pain, the frustration and the injustice. We learn how the laws of the day impacted the people of the day. This knowledge comes from Ms. Frost digging into the archives and finding many original sources. The footnotes constitute a “treasure trove” of information akin to reading old newspapers. The book tells the story of “citizenship stripping” as a commentary on American history, culture and values in a broader sense.
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Cook v. Tait: More About The Meaning Of Citizenship Than About The Scope Of Taxation

Introduction And Purpose

The focus of this blog has always been on citizenship, taxation and citizenship taxation. Although taxation has always been perceived as a necessary burden, citizenship has sometimes been a benefit and sometimes been a burden. James Dale Davidson, writing in “The Sovereign Individual”, expressed the view that in the 20th Century US citizenship was generally a benefit. In the 21st (digital) century US citizenship based taxation has transformed US citizenship into a burden. The numbers of people renouncing US citizenship are a testament to this new reality.

The Weaponization Of US Citizenship – Two Methods

The history of US citizenship as documented in Amanda Frost’s “You Are NOT American”, is an epic story of the “weaponization of citizenship”. I highly recommend Professor Frost’s book – “You Are NOT American” to those interested in the evolution of US citizenship.

Method 1: Weaponization By Claiming The Individual Does NOT Meet The Requirements Of Citizenship

Regardless of the benefits or burdens of US citizenship, it is clear that the United States has a long history of “weaponizing US citizenship”. Professor Amanda Frost in her superb book “You Are NOT American” provides many examples of how the United States has used the concept and status of citizenship to either punish or reward individuals. Generally, Professor Frost describes a history where the use (or misuse) of America’s “nationality laws” has created hardships for people. Citizenship is a part of who people are. It’s part of their personal identity. Citizenship (presumptively) gives people a place or country they can call home. Citizenship (presumptively) gives people a place where they can live without fear of removal. Citizenship matters and the loss of citizenship can be a frightening and destabilizing event in the lives of an individual. It was not until 1967 that the United States Supreme Court in Afroyim ruled that US citizenship was conferred by the Constitution, belonged to the individual and could not (at least if born or naturalized in the US) be taken by the Government. (Of course that is of little comfort to those who can’t prove their US citizenship.)

Method 2: Weaponization By Claiming The Individual Does Meet The Requirements Of Citizenship

A minority of countries in the world confer citizenship based on and only on birth in the country.

Only two countries in the world impose worldwide taxation based on and only on the fact of citizenship.

The United States is the ONLY country that does both!

FATCA assisted the United States in exporting US taxation into other countries and on to the individuals who live in and are tax residents of those countries. In short: the accusation of being a US citizen living outside the United States subjected one to the “disabilities” and “criminalization” imposed by the US extra-territorial tax regime.

The US Supreme Court, Justice Joseph McKenna, And Citizenship In The Early Part Of 20th Century
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Biden 2023 Green Book: Six Ways The Proposals Would Affect Americans Abroad

Update April 13, 2022 …

Here is yet a seventh waythe treatment of gifts as capital gains – that the Biden Green book would impact Americans Abroad

Introduction

As long as the United States employs citizenship taxation any proposed changes to the US tax system will have an impact (some intended and some unintended) on Americans abroad.

The Biden Green Book for fiscal year 2023, released on March 28, 2022, contains a number of proposals to both increase tax rates and increase the tax base by increasing the number of activities that are taxable events. Generally the proposals include a number of provisions to create and enhance taxation on both income from capital and capital itself. These provisions continue to generate discussion in the mainstream media including: The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. This is certain to generate much discussion in the tax compliance community.

The 2023 Green Book is available here.

Much will be written about how the proposals would affect resident Americans. Far less will be written about how the proposals would affect Americans abroad. The US rules of citizenship taxation steal from Americans abroad (and the countries where they reside) in hundreds of ways. Some are intended and foreseeable. Others are the unintended consequences that result from tax changes that apply to people who are not considered in the political process.

Significantly the Green Book does not suggest a move away from US citizenship taxation toward resident taxation as embraced by the rest of the world. In their totality, the proposals (particularly those that create income realization events when a gift is made) suggest a worsening of the situation for Americans abroad. That said, one proposal “might” (depending on Treasury) allow for the relaxation for the 877A Exit Tax rules, for a narrow group of Americans abroad under certain circumstances.

The purpose of this post is to identify six ways (and I assure you that there are more) that the Green Book would impact Americans abroad. The “Group Of Six” includes:

1. Raising The Corporate Tax Rate To 28 percent – Creating Subpart F Income and Making More Americans Abroad GILTI – Page 2

Verdict: This will have the effect of increasing the number of Americans abroad subject to taxation on income earned by their small corporations but not received by them personally.

2. An increase in the Corporate rate would increase the GILTI rate (suggesting to 20 percent) – Page 2

Verdict: More Americans abroad will be GILTI and will possibly (depending on a combination of country specific factors and their specific circumstances) be subject to GILTI taxes at a higher rate).

3. Reducing Phantom Gains And Losses: Simplify Foreign Exchange Rate And Loss Rules For Individuals And Exchange Rate Rules For Individuals – Page 90

Verdict: This in interesting. While reinforcing that Americans abroad are tethered to the US dollar it does suggest a recognition of the unfairness of how the phantom gain rules harm the purchase and sale of residential real estate outside the USA). Imagine how this would interact with the proposed rules converting gifts to taxable capital gains?

4. Strengthening FATCA: Provide For Information Reporting by Certain Financial Institutions and Digital Asset Brokers For the Exchange Of information – Page 97

Verdict: This is an attempt to reinforce the core principles of FATCA which are about the identification of US citizens outside the United States.

5. Expatriation – The Stick: Extend The Statute Of Limitations For Auditing Expatriates To Three Years From The Date From Which 8854 Should Have Been Filed (Possibly Forever) – Page 87

Verdict: This is theoretically very bad. It means that those who renounce without filing Form 8854 would be subject to a lifetime of risk. Practically speaking these provisions are not understood on the retail level. Hence, I doubt this will influence many people.

6. Expatriation – The Carrot: Exempting Certain Dual Citizen Expatriates From The Exit Tax – Page 87

Verdict: This is good news for the narrow group of people impacted by this – mainly “Accidental Americans”. It is bad news for the rest because the existing rules will continue to apply to those “who are left behind”.

I assure you that the Green Book contains a large number of ways that Americans abroad will be impacted. I will leave it to others to add to this list.

The principle is:

Citizenship taxation can steal from Americans abroad at least a thousand ways. If you can understand even one hundred of them you are doing well!

Summary: Once again this shows how all proposed changes to US tax law impact Americans abroad in a world of citizenship taxation. There is nothing in this that suggests a move toward residence taxation. There are few crumbs which might make citizenship taxation easier to live with (example relaxing phantom gains). But, on balance these provisions are a “doubling down” on the problems of citizenship taxation. The provision to allow easier expatriation for “Accidental Americans” does nothing to make life easier for the rest.

If you have seen enough you can stop here. For those who want more of the details and explanation, continue on …

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The Road To Tax Reform For Americans Abroad: Part 1 – The Problem Is The System And Not The Party

Introduction – The First Of A Series Of Short Posts

My name is John Richardson. I am a Toronto, Canada based lawyer. I am also a founding member of “SEAT” (“Stop Extraterritorial American Taxation”). I am an advocate for reforming the US laws which apply to US citizens who live outside the United States as permanent residents of other countries. The problems experienced by Americans abroad are at the “boiling point” and something must be done. This post is motivated by the following twitter thread which reveals the pain, desperation, anger and divisiveness experienced by Americans abroad:

This is the first of a series of short posts in which I will share my thoughts and suggestions for how to proceed. I welcome your comments both here and on twitter where I am @Expatriationlaw.

Blind Partisanship Is Not Productive

I want to state at the outset that I am an independent and am not a member of any political party. I have been and continue to be supportive of independent candidates in Canada (and anywhere else). I state this because during this series of posts, I will express sentiments that are critical of political parties. When I criticize the Democrats it’s not because I am a Republican. It’s because the Democrats are deserving of criticism (or vice-versa). Healthy democracies are dependent on accurate observations and objective analysis. Excessive partisanship is simply an excuse for reasoned analysis.

The Difficulty Of Living As A US Citizen Outside The United States

First, if you are a “retiree living abroad” where all of your income is US sourced this post is NOT for you. You are filing the same US tax return while “retiring abroad” that you would if you were living in the USA. You are probably filing tax returns ONLY in the USA. Therefore, the US citizenship tax regime does not impact you in the same way. This post is for those who live permanently outside the United States and your income sources, assets and retirement planning are associated with the tax systems of other countries (foreign to the United States).

Second, As permanent residents of other countries, US citizens are treated as BOTH tax residents of the United States and tax residents of the countries where they live. In other words, they are subject to the full force of two (often incompatible) tax systems. Think of it. US citizens living outside the United States are subject to the tax systems of two countries at the same time. Leaving aside the anxiety this induces, the time that it takes to comply, the heightened threats of penalties and the outrageous costs of compliance (think tax accountants and lawyers), this puts Americans abroad in a position where:

1. They are subjected to a tax system that is more punitive than the tax system imposed on US residents

2. They are often subject to double taxation (the foreign tax credit rules and the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion do not prevent many forms of double taxation)

3. The US tax rules prevent them from engaging in the normal financial planning and retirement opportunities (Canadian TFSA and UK ISAs are not tax free for US citizens)

4. In many countries, because and only because of their US citizenship they are prevented from maintaining the normal financial accounts they need to live in a normal way (this is the direct result of the 2010 Obama FATCA law)

The cumulative weight of these problems is that US citizens living outside the United States are being constructively forced to renounce their US citizenship in order to survive. But, it gets worse. Since June 16, 2008 certain Americans abroad who renounce US citizenship (“covered expatriates“) are forced to pay a special expatriation tax on their non-US assets to achieve this goal. (You can find a video of my discussing US citizenship renunciation here.)

Americans abroad are NOT renouncing because they don’t want to be Americans. They are renouncing because the US tax and regulatory regime is forcing them out of their US citizenship!

It’s The System Not The Parties

Regardless of which political party is in power, tax laws will continue to change.

As long as the United States employs citizenship-based taxation, changes in US tax laws will continue to have dramatic (sometimes intended and sometimes unintended) effects on Americans abroad. These negative effects and outcomes will continue regardless of which political party is in power.

For example:

The 2017 TCJA became law under the Republicans. The effects on Americans abroad were horrible. (Examples include: Transition Tax, GILTI, those using the “Married Filing Separately” category were required to file with zero income)

The 2010 FATCA law was enacted under the Democrats. The effects on Americans abroad were horrible. (Examples include: Form 8938, FATCA bank account closures, etc.)

Therefore, it is a mistake to bicker over which political party has done more or less damage to Americans abroad. As long as citizenship-based taxation continues and tax laws continue to evolve, whatever political party is in power will – by changing tax laws – continue to damage the lives and finances of Americans abroad.

Individual American Abroad Must Unite To Get This System Of Law Changed

Conclusion for today: The problem is the system! It’s not the political parties.

You have the right to vote. The question is not which party to vote for. The question is how can you most effectively use your vote to end US citizenship-based taxation and encourage FATCA repeal.

To be continued …

John Richardson – Follow me on Twitter @Expatriationlaw

Republicans Overseas Begins Its Support and Advocacy for Pure Residence-based Tax

This is an incredibly significant development. See the following posts on their Facebook site. They also have a new Twitter feed. Follow them at @RepOverseas.

Republicans Overseas position On What Pure Residence-based taxation means:

Tax Talk 1 – November 22, 2021

Tax Talk 2 – November 29, 2021

Tax Talk 3 – December 10, 2021

Tax Talk 4 – December 15, 2021

Tax Talk 5 – December 20, 2021

Tax Talk 6 – December 27 2021

Tax Talk 7 – January 3, 2022

Tax Talk 8 – January 21, 2022

Tax Talk – January 24, 2022

Eroding the tax base of other countries by imposing direct US taxation on the residents of those countries

This is the fourth of a series of posts about international tax reform generally and how FATCA, CRS, citizenship-based taxation, GILTI, etc. work together.

The first three posts were:

US Tax Treaties Should Reflect The 21st Century And Not The World Of 100 Years Ago

The Pandora Papers, FATCA, CRS And How They Have Combined To Create Tax Haven USA

How The World Should Respond To The US FATCA Driven Attack On The Tax Base Of Other Countries

This fourth post continues where the third post – How The World Should Respond To The US FATCA Driven Attack On The Tax Base Of Other Countries – left off. That post described in a general way that FATCA facilitated the US taxation of residents of other countries. The purpose of this post is to give a small number of important examples. To repeat:

The imposition of FATCA on other countries means that …

The United States has effectively expanded its tax base into other countries by claiming residents of other countries as US tax residents. This is a direct attack on and the erosion of the tax base of those other countries.

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